We arrived in Montreal Saturday afternoon and tried to book a table at Pop! for that evening, but they were already booked so we settled for Sunday instead. I thought Sunday would be a fairly slow night but when we arrived, the place was full and we were glad that we had thought to reserve a table the night before.
We started our meal with a glass of champagne: Nature Champagne from Les Béguines. As we sipped our lovely bubbles, we looked over their menu, which was small, intimate and minimal, just like the space. It was exactly what we had in mind: something light, something easy and hopefully delicious.
I started with half a dozen oysters. Each half-shell was propped on its own bed of rock salt and accented with a few colorful accoutrements. One pair of oysters was accented in caviar and grapefruit. This added a refreshing twist to the oyster’s flavor: the acidity from the grapefruit, the salty tenderness from the caviar. Different and delicious! Another pair was topped with a slice of shitake mushroom and a leaf of cilantro. For me, the earthy shitake competed too much with the oyster. I love shitakes but it didn’t really work for me; I would have preferred the oyster by itself. The last pair of oysters was only dressed in chervil and a hint of lime, which was subtle enough to add a little “je ne sais quoi” to the naked oysters. I was not too familiar with chervil so I had to ask the waiter what herb it was; I could not detect it from the taste alone. Of the three varieties, I preferred the caviar/grapefruit (very tasty) and the lime/chervil (very light). The oysters were from New Brunswick but I don’t know the variety. They were not as small as Kumamotos nor as big as Pacifics.
My husband, not an avid fan of oysters, ordered the surprisingly delicious salad of Brussel sprouts, rosette de Lyon, green apple, goat cheese and friend onions. The goat cheese was very smooth and creamy. I could have eaten the goat cheese all by itself. The rosette de Lyon was fat, smoky, crispy and addictively tasty. It reminded my husband of German speck. All the ingredients in this salad worked well together. I’ve never been a fan of Brussel sprouts but this is one salad that even I, not a big salad fan, would have eaten regularly, if given the chance.
Pop! filled up fast and as we were finishing up our appetizers, I noticed that the hostess had to turn away several couples and groups that came through the door. The restaurant is not very big, which I like. There’s seating for perhaps 30 people, with an additional 6 or 7 seats at the bar. There’s a little alcove in the middle of the restaurant, opposite from the bar, where a piano player entertains on Thursday nights (our waiter informed us).
Before arriving at Pop!, we had not checked out their menu on line so we did not know that Tartes were on their menu. We were both delighted when we saw Alsace tarte flambee. My husband lived in Strasbourg, France for two years and whenever I had visited him there, we had often enjoyed tarte flambee in several of the regional restaurants. We had not found any restaurants since leaving Europe that offered it on their menu or even knew what it was. Of course, we had to order the tarte flambee.
Unfortunately, it was not as spectacular as we had hoped but it was tasty just the same and the eight small rectangular slices filled with bacon, onions and crème fraiche disappeared within a short period of time. The tarte itself was thicker than we remembered from France and the bacon pieces were bigger than we thought it should be. I’m sure you’ve experienced this before. You taste something really incredible the first time and then everything thereafter feels like a letdown. It’s so hard not to compare; everything is relative, isn’t it.
We wanted to order one of their two foie gras dishes but the waiter informed us that foie gras was not available that night. Fortunately, he had something else on the Plau du Jour offering.
Recently I watched a food show where a group of men seemed to be having a food orgasm from eating bone marrow. Well, I decided then and there that, if given the chance, I needed to try this delicacy. So imagine how my ears perked up when the waiter described the Plat du Jour, “Braised pork shank with Bone Marrow, sausage, root vegetables, and potatoes”. All I heard was Bone Marrow and I said, “Oui, je le prends.”
Suffice to say, I don’t remember too much about the pork shank, sausage or root vegetables. I remember taking the spoon that came with my bone marrow and scooping up the delicate morsels into my mouth as if I were eating some succulent sweet Hachiya persimmon. From the first rich taste of that marrow, I realized that I was a goner; I had just discovered another dish that I’m sure my health practitioner would tell me is not good for my health. Great; but why do all these bad things taste so good? The gravy was sinfully delicious. We wanted to ask for a baguette to soak up the sauce but instead we used the spoon that came with my bone marrow and scooped up the rest of the sauce. My European husband prefers bread as his sauce sponge; My Asian ancestry makes me pine for rice for mine. When the waiter came to clear our plate, I don’t think there was anything left remaining on our “Plat du Jour” or on our individual plates. I’m glad that Pop did not have any foie gras dishes that evening. If they had had it, I nprobably would not have asked about the Plat du Jour and I would have certainly missed out on experiencing Bone Marrow for the first time.
After our champagne, we had asked the waiter for recommendations on a bottle of wine to complement all the different foods that we had chosen: oysters, chevre, tarte flambee, braised pork shank, bone marrow. We usually prefer red wine to white but given our menu selection we thought that a white would fare better. He had agreed and recommended a bottle of French Chablis, les temps perdus 2007. It was a perfect recommendation and complimented all our dishes without challenging any of the distinct flavors.
Although we had already enjoyed enough food to feed a family of four, we still had room for fromage. The waiter brought out a plate of four cow cheeses and two goats from which we chose three of the four cows, including a blue, a hard and a soft. I can’t remember the name of the cheeses we chose but I know the name of the one we did not choose: Comte. It’s one that we’re very familiar with at home; the others were not. After awhile, the chosen cheeses were returned to us on a plate filled with figs, warm nutty bread (thinly sliced and toasted warm), roasted pecans and toasted almonds. I preferred the hard cheese, my husband preferred the soft and we both enjoyed the blue. The dried figs were nothing memorable but the nuts tasted fresh, and crunched agreeably when bitten.
By then my husband was full and did not have any room left for dessert; he only wanted a glass of Muscat. I, however, had watched other patrons enjoying what looked like chocolate mousse in little mason jars. It was the Chocolate pot de crème with caramel and Maldon salt. I was all prepared to order it, but then the waiter showed up and I asked him about the dish. He answered that it was the signature dish of the restaurant and very popular. I asked him what his favorite dish was and he answered, “Mine? My favorite? Mine is the litchee granita. The pot de crème is nice but if you’ve had pot de crème, then it’s nothing special. The litchee granita is special, it’s unique and you only can get it here.” Well, enough said. I took his recommendation, ordered the litchee granita and then asked for a dessert wine to compliment the choice. He surprised me with his response: Champagne. He said the champagne went well with the granita and the white chocolate. I decided to give it a try.
The dessert choice and champagne did not disappoint. In hindsight, I realize that if I had ordered the pot de crème, it probably would have been very nice and enjoyable and I would have added it to the many other pot de crèmes that I’ve. However, the waiter was right, the litchee granita was indeed different: the richness of the cream, the refreshing burst of citrus from the grapefruit, the bubbly slivers of litchee granita and the Campari jelly. It all worked beautifully; I reveled in the different textures, tastes and sensations in each spoonful. And the Champagne indeed washed it all down with great effervescence.
In conclusion, we enjoyed a wonderful meal and experience at Pop!. It’s definitely got a neighborhood-restaurant feel to it. It’s not something I would do for a special evening but it’s a great place for a regular weekly staple. If I lived in Montreal, I could easily see me and my husband sitting at the bar, starting with a few apps, trying their other dishes, and then finishing with a dessert or fromage plate, and rinsing them down with a few libations before walking home. Next time we're in Montreal, I want to try Laloux next door.